Monday, March 17, 2008

The BBC is supposed to promote cohesion within UK communities, but some programmes on children's TV seem to be more divisive than cohesive.

Take Basil Brush which is being shown on the CBBC channel at the moment. There are the regular digs at cafe owner Anil, and the show has been excoriated by celebrated writer Russell T Davies. The Basil Brush Show is now the subject of an investigation of racism following a complaint from a member of the public. Joseph Jones, vice-chairman of the Southern England Romany, Gypsy and Irish Traveller Network compared the programme to the Black and White Minstrel Show.

Mr Jones told the Mail on Sunday: "This sort of thing happens quite regularly and we are fed up with making complaints about stereotypical comments about us in words that we find racist or offensive ... Racist abuse of black people is quite rightly no longer deemed acceptable, but when a comedian makes a joke on TV about pikeys or gypos, there's no comeback."

The Basil Brush episode from 2002 - Fakes Progress - which was the subject of the Russell T Davies complaint, is still being repeated regularly on CBBC: Basil Brush tells Molly and Dave to watch carefully as they may learn something about comedy. A woman approaches the cafe bar. Mr Stephen, without looking round whispers over his shoulder "I think you're drop-dead gorgeous. Fancy a quick snog?" But by then the woman has walked away and a man is standing in her place. The man gives Mr Stephen a disgusted look and punches him in the face, to the sound of general audience laughter and applause. Mr Stephen is seen sporting the resultant black eye for several minutes afterwards. Basil says "Ahh, shame you had to miss the punch-up .." (more laughter)

Russell T Davies's complaint in 2003 wasn't upheld by the BBC. I asked about the homophobic episode, as well as some other issues, at the end of January 2008. Richard Deverell said (on this subject): Much of what we do on CBBC involves humour. Humour is subjective and, at times, may offend some people. Clearly we do not set out to offend and we apologise when we get it wrong. However, equally, I would be reluctant to adopt a policy where every line, scripted and spontaneous, had to be subject to a rigorous check of whether it could possibly cause offence to any individual or group.

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